BWW Review: BANK JOB: For Want of an Exit Strategy
Written by John Kolvenbach, Directed by Robert Walsh; Set Design, Jon Savage; Lighting Design, Russ Swift; Costume Design, Linda Ross; Sound Design, David Wilson; Properties Design, Mary Sader; Stage Manager, Jenna Worden
Performances through June 10 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester, MA; Box Office 978-281-4433 or www.gloucesterstage.com
Gloucester Stage Company opens its 38th season with the New England premiere of John Kolvenbach's Bank Job, welcoming back four GSC veterans and introducing one newcomer, under the direction of Artistic Director Robert Walsh. A pair of brothers decides to try a new career path that could be very lucrative, but it turns out that robbing banks is much more difficult than it looks in the movies. Armed with pistols loaded with blanks and an alphabet soup of convoluted escape plans, the siblings spend more time squabbling over old family business than finding a way out of their hiding place in the Men's Executive Washroom.
Paul Melendy (Russell) and Nael Nacer (Tracey) play the rivalrous brothers who don clown masks to pull off a heist of 14 million dollars, but their exit strategy goes awry when they find the bathroom window walled over. The two actors make the most of the brothers' ridiculous situation and excel at the physical comedy called for as they struggle to change clothes, stuff things in backpacks, and hoist the giant duffle bags full of money into the stalls. Expressions of exasperation, panic, fear, and frustration play across their faces at a rapid clip, like a slide show of reaction shots.
Bank Job hits the ground running with sight gags and one-liners aplenty, and Melendy and Nacer make the hard work of comedy look easy. Walsh establishes a breakneck pace to keep the laughs coming and the action moving, but Kolvenbach's script shifts out of the fast lane when the story expands to include additional characters. A lone police officer (Johnny Lee Davenport) enters the bathroom to look for the robbers, but they hide in the stalls to avoid him. Thinking he's in there by himself, he makes use of the facilities and takes advantage of the amenities. Playing the Keystone Kop is a nice departure for Davenport, who often handles roles with greater gravitas, and he proves that his bag of tricks includes skill with light comedy.
There is also a young woman bank teller (newcomer Shuyi Jia) who has been hiding in the stalls all along and she inserts herself into the situation when the officer gets the drop on the brothers. Her purpose is minimal and Kolvenbach seems unsure about how to develop her role, so much of what she has to say being nonsensical or unimportant. At one point, the robbers exit the washroom for an extended period, leaving the cop and the teller handcuffed together. Their conversation to pass the time is uninspired and slows the play to a crawl. When the brothers come back onstage, bringing with them a hostage (Richard McElvain) from the bank, the pace revs up again. However, subsequent twists and turns happen rapidly (fasten your seat belt), making it feel like the playwright is trying too hard to re-establish lost momentum. When the end comes, it is anti-climactic and not particularly believable, albeit inevitable.
The plot premise of Bank Job has a lot of promise, but the development of the lesser characters is lacking. The brothers are well-drawn and fully realized by the crack team of Melendy and Nacer. Davenport offers some delights in his role, McElvain portrays the multiple facets of his character very well in his limited time on stage, and Jia does what she can with the sketchiness of her role. Considering that the play has only been around since 2014 and that this is its N. E. premiere, perhaps the playwright could take it back to the drawing board. As it stands, instead of firing on all cylinders, it's shooting blanks.